Categories
Emotional Work

Day 693 and Thanksgiving

I’ve got so much to be thankful for this year. And it’s the first time since the pandemic began that I’ve felt optimistic about where I’m going with my life. Even if I’m a bit of a doomer, I remain a believer in the human capacity to figure shit out. The road to tomorrow is long and bumpy so best plan ahead.

I’ve had a certain worldview for a while. That we may have some hard years ahead of us to earn back the heights of our boom. Nothing in life is free. And we dined out on energy and resources that had hard costs.

But I prepared for the possibility that life might be harder. I got us to our homestead in Montana this year. To think before this year we’d never owned a piece of property before. It just wasn’t a possibility for so long and then we bounded up on the flush years and found a way to realize some gains.

So I’m grateful that on this cycle of the churn I’ve played it well and fair and I’ve set my family up to work and thrive during hard times. We didn’t get over our skis but neither did we fail to prosper. And for that I am grateful. I am thankful to have been able to play to higher standards but also not gotten eaten by the bigger beasts of capitalism.

I suppose it’s also no accident that I’ve also felt I’ve been thriving in my personal life. I’m so thankful to have made progress on becoming more myself this year. It will probably in hindsight be a demarcation between some of the compromises I made in my youth and some of the boundaries that have led to maturity now.

The more I let go of old copping mechanisms and become more myself, the better I do at achieving my goals. And I hope I can remember this lesson every day. If I can do that I will always have something to be grateful for in my life. And on this turn of the wheels I am offered another chance to defy the odds.

Categories
Uncategorized

Day 692 and Managing Founders

I spent the first decade and a half of my career as a founder. I am very good at certain parts of the job like creating momentum and getting attention. I am less competent at operations and logistics management. Fortunately I’ve always had incredible teams who managed me.

That’s right, I said teams who managed me. One of the dirtiest secrets my husband kept from me is exactly how experienced operators like him manage high octane founders like me.

“ We don’t take an action until the third time an ask is made.”

Alex Miller

Alex has had to manage some of the quirkiest personalities in startup land so he didn’t just develop this strategy with me. He has been using this three asks technique for a while.

Initially I was extremely insulted when he revealed this was standard operating procedure for dealing with founders. How dare he not do what I request. I did a little ego protection. But then I realized he was right. Founders have to be managed carefully.

Momentum machines without any friction can quickly spiral out. Knowing exactly how and when to apply friction is the real trick. Too much and nothing will get built, but too little and your team can’t get a grasp on where to focus.

Many founders are extremely charismatic people. Their entire job is to get you excited about doing the impossible. And because sometimes we discover that the impossible is indeed possible we often wrongly assume if someone tells us “no” we’ve absolutely got to prove them wrong. We are always trying to generate momentum towards what excites us most.

Alex wisely doesn’t ever tell founders no. He actually encourages you to figure out if you really want what you asked for through his three asks technique. He gathers information. He asks what you are really trying to accomplish. He asks about specifics and technicalities and details. He gently coaxes out the underlying reason for an ask. He gathers information better than anyone I’ve ever known.

And what really drives me nuts is that this system works. If through the process of information gathering the founder continues to insist that something should be done Alex will organize all the details he has gathered in diligence. He will present the information and wait for the founder to ask a third time. If that third asks comes, only then with all the information will he organize the executive team together decides to proceed and make sure the founder is ready to accept the plan.

The genius in this method is that founders have an excellent gut sense for direction and momentum. But because it isn’t our jobs to actually make it happen we can often be total idiots about the resources required and the hidden land mines. By managing both the founders desire for an outcome with the realistic needs of the business, you almost always avoid pursuing the bad ideas.

If you work at a startup, especially directly with a founder, I’d strongly advise implementing the three asks method. You won’t go on nearly as many wild goose chases but so long as it’s done with empathy and tact you will still benefit from your founder’s natural momentum.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 691 and Ready to Shop

For well over a decade I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I was one of the “ lucky” few for whom Black Friday is the most important day of year. I did time in the trenches of retail.

When I worked in fashion and then later cosmetics, Black Friday was the all consuming event that dictated whether your year was a success or a failure. I slept in my office more than once. I pulled all nighters. And that barely scratches the surface of the long hours leading up to the main event. Having a good Black Friday is a make or break affair for brands and retailers.

I love shopping. A well executed customer experience is one of America’s crowning achievements. A beautifully merchandised store (in real life or online) that has exactly what you want along with everything you didn’t know you wanted too, is one of the great joys of civilization.

One of the downsides of knowing retailers’ rhythms intimately is that it changes how you shop. Now that I no longer work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday I am able to participate as a customer. But I know too much. I know pricing, discounting and if SKU counts are bloated or constrained. I can sense how deep a sale will go with a glance at merchandising and a quick perusal of the last 10-K. Shopping is now an exercise in arithmetic.

And this year is shaping up to be the best Black Friday since before the pandemic. For the last two years brands have struggled to keep items in stock due to supply chain crunches and pandemic era labor shortages. But this year they did not want to be caught flat footed. At the height of the stimulus that placed deep orders. Optimism has returned.

But now interest rates are rising to combat the inflationary pressures that has loomed over an economy demanding to buy more just months ago. But now no one is so sure about spending. Prices have risen. Layoffs are spooking folks. And it sure seems like brands and retailers bought way too much for the current mode of America.

I’m planning on buying quite a bit as the discounts will be steep, the inventory is available, and I don’t like to shop unless I’m getting what I want at a price I like. We will be focused on clothing and footwear as well as basics like good wool socks. We also have a few electronic gadgets we’ve been waiting to buy including a humidifier and a chain saw. I’m also hoping for a few surprises from cosmetics retailers as well. It is hunting season.

Categories
Culture

Day 690 and Status Games

Noblesse oblige. Literally translated from the French as nobility obligates. It’s commonly understood to mean that aristocracy has a responsibility to act graciously towards the civilization which has granted them status.

It’s a turn of phrase I’ve written about before, specifically how in our post modern times, we are challenged to understand who is pursuing a life of virtue and what their obligations may be to the rest of us.

No one is sure if they are nobility or peasantry. No one is noble or good. Which means nobody deserves anything they get. Which is about as close to the war of all against all as I can imagine. Hobbes would be pleased.

JFredrickson.com Day 45

Humanity has always been rather clever at inventing new classes. We need fresh blood from the bottom to keep revolutionary sentiment in church. Every century we are finding new ways to fight it out for new types of status and virtue.

Business values money. Old money values class. The intelligentsia values intellect. Hipsters value taste. The religious value faith. And around we go with status games as we trade social capital for actual capital just so we can get something to eat.

There is always an emerging new game that upsets the underlying order. The printing press destabilized the church and its priestly cast. The internet destabilized the media and it’s editor cast. You know the drill.

Right now there is a massive internecine fight over which order rules over Twitter. And depending on whose camp you fall into you are probably signaling different things. And that lack of shared cultural values is leading to some pretty silly reactions. A lot of dickriding is happening across every major faction.

Which if you take away the reactionary specifics, is totally understandable. If one class of person values money but the competing group values taste than you aren’t really fighting for the same things. Different values are different.

But you’ve got to be careful with your own reactions. Ask yourself if you are responding out of some shared cultural loyalty that is overshadowing your own common sense. Your attention is valuable and powerful people recognize your attention for the commodity that it has become.

Don’t buy into bullshit just because it’s your team. The chance that someone is making a buck off of your attention sure ain’t zero. And America being a free country and all means you shouldn’t be living enthralled to someone else’s priorities.

Categories
Internet Culture

Day 689 and Dick Riding

As chaos continues to unfurl around the world, the tendency towards hero worship is getting out of control. Cults of personality are having a moment absolutely everywhere, even as we are treated to even more spectacular variants of the Emperor Has No Clothes. You’d think the recent flameouts in finance, technology and politics just this week would make us all a bit more skeptical of authority and yet that does not appear to be the case.

You cannot go onto Twitter without exposing yourself to someone’s daddy issues disguised as a low rent business school case study thread. I was concerned about the information hygiene as platform capacity degraded. But I honestly wasn’t expecting the first disease that actually emerged. Twitter is in the throes of an emotional venereal disease.

I am talking about dick riders.

If you are not familiar with the term, being a dick rider means praising absolutely every move of someone you perceive as having more power than you. Dickriding is a particularly uncomfortable form of reply guying wherein you praise absolutely every move of the person whose dick you are riding.

It’s especially virulent among regular people without personal expertise or exposure to the problem at hand. Not knowing any better is not however a prerequisite for dick riding. You can lend your credibility to someone else by using your expertise to rationalize just about anything.

Humans love power and hierarchy. I guess it makes us feel safe to believe that someone knows what the hell they are doing when we are afraid. But the sad reality is that we are all human. Even the most accomplished and brilliant among us are still saddled with bias, self doubt, insecurities and blind spots. If you are inclined towards the religious, we are all sinners. Though I’d recommend you combine that with a side of grace as I don’t mean this to be judgmental.

I realize it’s pretty funny to bring up the redeeming power of grace in the context of sexually explicit slang. But I do think it’s helpful to remember that even the worst of us have redeeming qualities and even the best of us have flaws.

So if you are tempted to engage in dickriding because you think someone is better than you, might I encourage you to consider that we are all equals in the eyes of God. Or at very least equal in the face of a good shit post.

I’m a straight woman so I like riding dick but I don’t know what excuse the rest of you have.
Categories
Startups

Day 688 and Hardcore

My generation of founders came of age during the peak of hustle porn. We were young and dumb, and even without the use of stimulants and nootropics like our Gen Z younger siblings, we got a lot done. Probably because we were well young and dumb. And it’s easier to do things with brute force when you don’t have better tools. Being hardcore made sense for some of us.

Alas if you burn the candle at both ends you may find yourself with an astonishing array of healthcare issues in your thirties. Which is astonishingly common in my cohort. I’m just one of the rare examples that is public about the dangers of overworking yourself. Hustle porn’s legacy is mixed. We lost founders to workaholism and occasionally much worse. A generation learned that mental and emotional health are just as important as physical health.

Hustle culture coincided with a lot amazing companies getting built but it’s not entirely clear to me if being hardcore is the only factor at play. Tempting as it may be to look for simple mono-causal relationships in life, the math of success is never that simple. Life isn’t an engineering problem. And even if life was an engineering problem, applying more force doesn’t solve all problems. It might even make a few worse.

I don’t want to knock hard work obviously. Im a firm believer that the basics never go out of style. Hard work is a given. Most of the greats are working hard because once you discover you have a natural talent then maturity generally encourages you to hone it.

Success is built from many fathers even if it’s mother is hard work. Proper resourcing, adequate incentives, teamwork and an effective hierarchy of respect within it are all factors. And let us not forget just plain old good luck matter just as much as being hardcore.

So tempting as it may be to give in to Twitter discourse narratives don’t get fooled into thinking someone that is successful has it all figured out. You don’t know what it took to get there and who brought it together. Don’t overweight success on its own. Nothing is ever that simple. Expect that the team you want to be a part of will demand that you demonstrate all of the above virtues and along with the necessities of hard work. But if it all comes together it is worth the sacrifice.

Categories
Finance Startups

Day 687 and Winter

It’s cold out there. And I don’t just mean metaphorically. Winter came early and hard to Montana just as the Farmer’s Almanac predicted it would. Driving back in from town last night after grocery shopping it was -3 degrees on the car’s temperature gauge just after sunset at 6pm.

It’s cold out there in the capital markets too. The federal reserve is raising rates to tamp down on inflation and the cost of capital is hitting the technology industry. Frankly I think we’ve all been waiting for an excuse to cut the fat and now we’ve got it.

But it’s going to have consequences for startups. Founders who have never had to live with the harsh realities of a down market are in for a surprise. Those juicy valuations in the private markets don’t work so well when the public markets can find safer returns in a Treasury finally paying out on a t-bill.

Let me play with a tortured metaphor to help you understand the situation. You think you understand how cold winter will be until you realize you haven’t had to work through a chill for over a decade. Sure maybe in your closet you’ve got a nice coat but when was the last time you wore it? If it was for a ski retreat with one of your venture partners then this metaphor is absolutely about to do double duty.

Surviving a bitter cold isn’t just about having a bulky down coat. Think of that as your cash runway. Without adequately rated cold weather gear to keep you alive you may find yourself tapping out. But it’s not just about the coat.

Keeping warm and staying productive requires some technique. Do you understand how to layer correctly? Do you have hats, gloves and scarves? I bet you walk around with ankle socks and Allbirds. That’s not going to go well in a foot of snow. Do you know how to eat for the cold? How about hydration?

Your team will need more than runway. They are going to need motivation to work with less fuel. You have to show them that the climb up the snowy mountain is worth it.

A winter startup team will need the skills and flexibility to work around problems that can’t be solved with money. Shit can and will go wrong on a long cold climb out of an economic winter. Creativity and belief must overlap with intuition if you want to make it.

And it’s important to remember lot of your team won’t have those intuitions. We’ve all been living in Miami and suddenly it’s -3 in Montana. And guess who gets to teach them how to adapt? You. You need to teach your team gently and with empathy what it will take. And they will makeup mistakes. Have you ever watched someone try to lace up boots for the first time? You might need to help them cinch.

I promise it is worth it though. If you are climbing the right mountain, and prepare adequately for your journey, the rarified air of a successful startup is invigorating. And the view from the top isn’t bad. If you need some help thinking all this through as a founder drop me a line Julie (at) chaotic dot capital and I’m happy offer some Sherpa advice. I lived though 2001 and 2007 (I even got laid off during RIP Good Times) so you can rely on me for some elder millennial wisdom. Stay warm!

Categories
Culture

Day 686 and Code Switch

The social contract in America is breaking down but none of us have agreed on the new rules yet. Of course, some populations have never lived within the consensus social contract in America.

And yes there are a lot of Americans that don’t live inside our social contract. Being black or queer (or god forbid both) even in 2022 means speaking a foreign language in your own land. If you aren’t familiar with the term code switching I’d encourage you to look it up.

I’ve almost always lived within consensus norms. At least appearance wise. I pass as a nice white lady with a nice seems white husband. He’s Jewish so only the incredibly woke or the incredibly racist disagree. Though eventually even that protection may give way if we don’t have children.

Code switching isn’t cost free. You’ve got to think about your audience constantly. You adjust who you are based on the acceptable norms of discourse. And it’s an exhausting exercise if you’ve never had to do it.

One of the reasons Twitter has been such a combustible place is that people code switch all the time. If you get caught in a context collapse situation where what you said is fine in one community and heresy in a another you might find yourself getting canceled. Speech norms have always been context dependent.

I’ve recently become more aware of how much code switching I do because I’ve been trying to solve a problem that isn’t considered polite to have in rich stable white American society. If you follow me closely you know it’s related to immigration.

I really need to fix this problem so I’ve been asking around quietly and obliquely trying to sense my way around adjacent communities with rules that won’t turn me into a pariah. And it’s a ton of work. It requires the kind of sensitivity and social graces I’ve previously prided myself on only to discover it’s just the rules for the Western upper class whites. Everyone else knows justice isn’t for them.

As you might imagine plenty of people live with entirely different contexts and social graces than the Eurocentric worldview. And they are all fully and completely aware of the indignities of my problem and the varied ways in which one solves for it. And no one is judging me for it. But it’s been a bit shocking to me. I fully believed playing by the rules would eventually reward me. And of course that’s the real reasonable we code switch. Because different rules apply to different people.

Categories
Internet Culture Media

Day 685 and Brainworms

I am very good at media. It’s a passion as well as one of my few hobbies that has stood the test of time. If I wanted a regular job I think I’d enjoy for more than a couple year stint I’d probably pick publicist. I say this add context to the topic I plan to discuss.

Because I’m so experienced (and also naturally talented) at the attention disciplines, I can spend time consuming information that isn’t mentally or emotionally hygienic for the average person. I have outstanding informational immunity. I stare into the abyss so others don’t have to. I monitor it all, from extremist groups to the most normie mainstream media. I have always made my living by intaking and organizing information.

Unlike your drunk uncle or wired Gen Z nephew, I can withstand information environments designed to “pill” you and hijack your dopamine responses without ill effect. Frankly I’m disappointed I’m not a literal William Gibson character as I certainly feel like Cayce Pollard existentially.

So I hope you take me seriously when I say I think it is time for all of us to pull back from extended raw regular Twitter consumption for a little bit. It has become an info-hazard rapidly and almost accidentally as its new management attempts to reinvigorate features and drive cost cutting (some of which I support). I don’t know if it is going to collapse or get reinvented but Twitter as it is right now is unstable.

The degradation of features and rules of engagement is happening too quickly and unpredictably for me to surf continuously like I have in the past. Context collapse is pervasive. There are gaping holes in informational hierarchies from experiments to both nerf and boost accounts through verification chaos. Responses from trusted accounts don’t make it to my alerts. I used to browse on reverse chronological non-algorithm view but it appears so broken in my feed it’s unclear how or why things are being surfaced.

And these concerns barely scratch the surface. Twitter’s immune responses to competing agendas, trolling and chaos agents are broken as the duct tape and physical labor of its team has been slashed. Raging information infections that typically remain contained to their ecosystems are spreading to main feeds. You cannot control your information environment when it is collapsing all around you.

You are going to get brain worms if you are not careful. If even a twenty year professional with exposure to the darkest corners of content (from 4chan to Gawker to groypers) no longer feels safe in this information war zone than you might want to consider restricting your own consumption for your own mental and emotional safety. I’ve decided to cut down on browsing until the platform stabilizes. I’m rebooting my email inbox and newsfeeds. I am choosing to open news apps directly rather than waiting for my networks to surface news. I just don’t feel safe drinking from the raw feed on Twitter right now.

In other words, if it’s not safe for me then it is definitively not safe for you.

Categories
Finance

Day 684 and Newcomb’s Paradox

I like mathematics. I’ve got very little talent for arithmetic but formal proofs were something I could feel my way through. I only learned this by failing regular calculus so badly and getting rescued by my roommate who is the scion of a very important family in algebraic topology. Bet you didn’t know that was a thing did you? He showed me that mathematics isn’t about numbers at all but about the logic of the universe. Also he kept me from flunking out. Thanks Tom!

I know the above sounds silly, but in academic circles math is one of those “purest” of institutions where cognitive processing power matters a lot and absolutely nothing else. They are some of the most deeply impractical and removed from reality types of humans you will ever meet.

I’m autistic enough that I found the company of this type of human deeply comforting as they comforted me though my shame based need desire to be normal. Literally no one will make you feel more normal than someone that works in formal logic and it’s adjacent philosophy of decision theory. I bet a lot lot of pretty girls with daddy issues have found this to be true if the LessWrong community is to be believed.

Because of how close I was to my roommate (and still an even though we don’t see each other enough) I got to spend time with a lot of utterly bizarre math people. And it really runs the gamut from those who are functionally pirates who can barely feed themselves to the founders of Renaissance Capital. They are a good time generally speaking. Extremely chaotic people who drink thousand dollar bottles of champagne from solo cups while discussing science fiction are my definition of a good hang.

But they are not what you’d call standard issue humans. If you’d like to know exactly how, ask them to explain how being three standard deviations from the mean has affected them and don’t interrupt them for thirty minutes. I am an outlier in many ways. But I don’t hold a candle to some of the folks I got to meet.

The reason I titled this post Newcomb’s Paradox is because it is thanks to early exposure to mathematics that I got to explore the complete irrationality of rationalism. Newcomb’s Paradox in its simplest format tells us that in an irrational system it is not rational to behave rationally. It is a paradox because this is both true and not true.

If you have some common sense you are not immediately knocked on your ass by this revelation but it turns out to be so unnerving. Unfortunately for some folks at the edge, which is most folks who are mathematicians, it might also break their brain. Effective altruism is now being blamed for its adjacency to the entire Sam Bankman Fried committed fraud at FTX scandal because they took the paradox entirely too literally and not at all seriously.

And given the dangers that can come from extremes perhaps more of us should be spending time with mathematicians. Math pirates when combined with high finance and potent philosophies might need tempering by those of us only two standard deviations out.